What is Arachnoiditis?

Senior man suffering from back pain.

Medical malpractice attorneys see a lot of people in terrible pain. So when a medical malpractice attorney describes a condition as “the most painful and awful medical condition I can imagine a person experiencing,” you know it’s bad. That’s arachnoiditis.

The arachnoid is one of the membranes that surrounds the nerves of the spinal cord, protecting them. But when the arachnoid membrane becomes inflamed, serious consequences can result. Adhesions and scar tissue may form; these may cause spinal nerves to “stick together,” interfering with their normal functioning.

Symptoms of Arachnoiditis

When inflammation of the arachnoid interferes with nerve function, sufferers may experience symptoms such as:

  • Burning, stinging pain in the lower back and/or legs
  • Chronic, unrelenting pain that may feel like electric shocks
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Severe muscle cramps
  • Twitching and spasms
  • Abnormal sensations, such as insects on skin or water running down legs (dysesthesia)
  • Loss of feeling from groin area to legs and feet
  • Difficulties with bladder and bowel function
  • Sexual dysfunction

In the most severe cases, arachnoiditis can paralyze the lower limbs. Unfortunately, arachnoiditis is difficult to treat, and long-term outcomes tend to be difficult to predict.

What Causes Arachnoiditis

So, what causes the inflammation of the arachnoid that leads to so much misery? Inflammation can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection, or a chemical irritant. Chronic compression of spinal nerves may also lead to arachnoiditis. But it is often caused by direct injury to the spine. Sometimes the injury happens during spinal surgery or other invasive procedures involving the spine. This injury may constitute medical malpractice.

What is especially heartbreaking about arachnoiditis is that it may unfold as the result of a patient seeking to make back pain better. A sufferer of chronic, low-level back pain might consult with an orthopedic surgeon, who then orders a CT scan and diagnoses age-related spinal stenosis: a narrowing of the spinal column. Surgery is an option to relieve the compression of the nerves. But if the doctor makes a mistake during the surgery, inflammation of the arachnoid can result, leading to the symptoms detailed above, and an uncertain future.

Treatment for Arachnoiditis

As mentioned above, treating arachnoiditis can be a challenge. Rather than curing the condition, treatments are focused on relieving pain and treating the symptoms that limit sufferers’ ability to function.

Surgical interventions are available for arachnoiditis, but they have historically offered disappointing outcomes. When surgical treatments do provide relief for arachnoiditis, it tends to be of short duration. Therefore, doctors usually recommend a regimen that includes exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy and pain management. Because arachnoiditis causes persistent, chronic pain that can profoundly limit sufferers’ ability to enjoy their usual activities, it can lead to severe depression. For this reason, psychotherapy is also a recommended part of the treatment regimen.

How Do I Know If My Doctor Caused My Arachnoiditis?

Many of the symptoms of arachnoiditis are shared by other medical conditions, including cauda equina syndrome. If you have symptoms of arachnoiditis that appeared or worsened after spinal surgery, you should not assume that they are typical post-surgery symptoms, or that they will get better or go away on their own. Although treatment options for arachnoiditis are limited, it is still better to receive treatment as soon as possible. As with many medical conditions, it is also helpful to get a second opinion.

The doctor who performed your spinal surgery is unlikely to admit that they made a mistake that caused you worse pain and loss of function than you had been experiencing before. A doctor offering a second opinion may be more candid, but also may hesitate to leap to conclusions that will cause problems for a fellow physician.

That is why you should obtain a copy of your medical record, including scans and notes regarding your surgery and take them to an experienced medical malpractice attorney for review. A medical malpractice attorney who has dealt with multiple arachnoiditis cases may be able to “connect the dots” and confirm that your injury was the result of negligence during your surgery.

Treatment for arachnoiditis is likely to be lifelong and may be costly. You may also have lost the ability to work and to provide for your family, and may need to pay for extra household help. If warranted, a medical malpractice lawsuit can get you the financial assistance you need and hold your surgeon accountable for their mistake. Unfortunately, a successful case won’t restore your physical function, but it can ensure that you get the treatment you need and offer peace of mind that you and your family will not suffer needless financial hardship.

If you have questions about arachnoiditis or other spinal injury as a result of medical malpractice, please contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.